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Affia attack as a challenge to Nigerian women in politics

Published by The Nation on Sat, 30 May 2020


Nnedinso OgaziechiFIFTY years after the Nigerian-Biafran war ended in 1970, the covid-19 pandemic has presented almost the same scenario of dire socio-economic needs as the war times. Economic activities are almost as restricted as they are almost fraught with extreme dangers. In the average African society, women are often the real economic engines of their communities. They are the ones that putting foods on the table falls into their core responsibilities as the act of nurture involves providing nutrition and other socio-cultural needs of families.During the Nigeria-Biafran civil war as in all war situations, the normal socio-economic routines were disrupted as opposing camps tried to inflict as much human and material damages to the enemy camp as possible. However, human needs do not seize during wars. The demand for basic needs for survival is always as potent during wars as they are at peace times. Basic food items like flour, grains, toiletries, proteins etc., were all very scarce and children and adults were dying of diseases and malnutrition.On the Biafran side, the needs were dire and so the women organized themselves to brave the odds and begin many economic activities with the Nigerian side of the war at the time despite all the risks even of death, rape and abductions. They organized themselves for the arduous task that entailed travelling for hours and even days to the enemy side to get essential commodities like salt, fish and flour which they took back to their refugee camps to feed both their children and men.The very famous Afia Attack literally translates to trading behind enemy lines and was expectedly fraught with grim dangers but as they say, the battle for survival eschews any form of fear. The hallmarks of the Afia Attack were the exposition of the leadership skills of the women, their courage, sense of duty and commitment to group good and survival on one hand and the tales of lost hopes, pains, deaths, rapes (by both sides) and abductions. But the diamond in the rubble was the brave women who in a way fought the worst battles. Going to war as a soldier means going to kill enemies and trying to survive. The Afia Attack women had battles on all fronts, they faced the multiple risks of being killed, raped, abducted, losing families, miscarriages and other physical loses.The Round Table had a conversation with Ujuaku Akukwe Nwakalor, the award-winning Producer/Director whose Afia Attack film won the best documentary at the Silicon Valley African Film Festival and was screened in many cities across the world. The Roundtable was curious to find out why she delved into such a controversial part of Nigerian history.Why Afia Attack' Its my opinion that Nigerian Civil War should not be swept under the carpet rather we should learn from it and find ways to come together, accept our differences, find solutions, play on our strengths and build a nation. The reason for Afia Attack is to let everyone one know, especially the younger generation that war can and must be avoided. I believe that dialogue rules. The reason being that women and children bear the brunt of war more than any other party therefore they should be protected at all cost by shunning war or rumours of it.Beyond the lessons of the war, there is a need to awaken women about the undeniable need to rein in on their men who are often the initiators of conflicts and wars. At the end, its the women who are left to cater for the dead, the wounded and the children. The need to sustain life drove the women to Affia Attack. On a good day, you run away from your enemies but these brave women ran towards the enemies with deft strategies to survive and sustain other lives.What were their tools of trade' The women chose service over the vanity of material possessions. They sold their clothes, jewelries, cooking utensils and everything they had just do they could access the Nigerian legal tender with which to buy lifes necessities. They gave up all their valuable items to sustain lives. Their core intention was to nurture and sustain lives. They walked long distances from six to twenty four hours to and from the venues of transactions.They encountered untold hardships along the line, some died of exhaustion because they walked a lot given that there were no organized transportation systems in place, some were raped by both sides by the warring soldiers, some were abducted totally and dislocated. But the living continued to fight for survival not only for themselves but for the larger communities. Their bravery is a lesson in service and the example of the leadership they had.They had women leaders who strategized the best way to operate under the very dire circumstances presented by the devastation of war. They were as selfless as they were courageous in the face of war crimes against them. Afia Attack (trading behind enemy lines) was a catalyst for survival during the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War. A story of lost hopes, pains, betrayals, sufferings, resilience and bravery. The battle for survival that is usually borne silently by women in wartime.The RoundTable has tabled the Affia Attack model of service side by side the attitude of modern Nigerian women in politics and found a sharp departure and a somewhat neutral sense of service and commitment for the womenfolk and the challenges of fellow girls and women by most of them in the Nigerian socio-political space. There is a benumbing aloofishness by most female politicians that pervades the landscape from East to West, North to South that has not really added value to women and their plight in Nigeria. Only a handful are truly committed to sacrificial leadership.The Affia Attack was an idea rooted in leadership and service by women leaders in the refugee camps in the South East at the time of war. Their bravery and marketing strategies are today subjects of academic studies globally. The choices they madegiving up their prized material possessions in exchange for more valuable everyday needs stands on a direct parallel with the attitude of most modern women in politics in the country.Nigeria might seem at peace today but there are wars women are still fighting, child-bride is keeping women from fully developing their potentials especially in the North. Rape, incest and a cocktail of domestic abuses are still burdens on the women. Maternal and child mortality is one of the global highest. For the Northern women in politics, what are they doing for the IDPs and we dont mean the occasional tokens given in-front- of camera handouts' What are they doing about child-brides' What are they saying about Almajiriai'For all women in the political space, beyond tagging along male politicians whose wrong policies often endanger women and other groups, what has been their vision' What is the value of the woman leader and other token posts from the male politicians'How many of the female politicians can selflessly serve their communities amidst the dangers of existence' It is a choice.The Affia Attack women have become a metaphor for the capacity of women to defy the socio-religious clich of weaker sex because their documented exploits during the war evidently shows that besides carrying guns, the women fought many wars and triumphed despite the hardships. The charge from The RoundTable is for the emergence of more women with the fiery and determined spirit of the Affia Attack Amazons. The war had ended but the story of their bravery and leadership reverberates across the globe. As we celebrate Fifty years of the end of the war that pushed women into prominence even against all odds, we urge women to rise up and prove that they are made of sterner stuff and take the political leadership roles that can add value to humanity.A salute to all the women across Nigeria that defied the odds, the dead, the raped, the maimed, the abducted, those who died with their babies in search of sustenance. May their courage be a pillar for any woman in a position to lead.Our dialogue continues
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